MPs grill CofE over same sex marriage stance

Posted: Wed, 25th Jan 2023

MPs grill CofE over same sex marriage stance

Members of parliament have criticised the Church of England's continued refusal to hold same sex marriages.

Yesterday Ben Bradshaw asked the Church's representative in the House of Commons to explain how "continuing to discriminate against lesbian and gay Anglicans in England is compatible with the unique duty of the established Church to serve everyone".

Last week CofE bishops proposed that the church continue its refusal to hold same-sex marriages, but allow prayers and blessings for those already in a same-sex civil marriage or partnership. The proposals have been widely criticised by equality campaigners, including LGBT Christians.

The bishops also apologised to LGBT people for the "rejection, exclusion and hostility" they have faced in churches.

Bradshaw asked how meaningful this apology can be "when that discrimination continues".

The Second Church Estates Commissioner Andrew Selous acknowledged that these proposals "do not go far enough, and that for others they will have gone too far". But he added: "We do not want to be in a position where churches are forced to follow the directives of Government or Parliament on matters of doctrine".

Many other MPs across parties, including Christians, criticised the Church.

Cat Smith, herself a Christian, said "because we have an established Church in this country, it falls on all of us to take an interest and to speak out on the issues of the Church".

Peter Bottomley warned that the House of Commons "will not put up with being held up by one third of one part of the General Synod".

Chris Bryant said the bishops' proposals displayed "cruelty" and "hypocrisy", while Peter Gibson said the Church's "two-tier system" on relationships "labels gay people as second-class citizens".

Wes Streeting said that the Church's teaching on sexuality made it harder than anything else to come out as a gay Anglican and that he "made the choice that I think many young gay Anglicans did – choosing to be myself and not to go to church".

"I would never cast my vote in a way that compelled any place of worship to perform same-sex marriage, because I believe in freedom of religious belief, but surely permissive legislation that enables places of worship, churches and priests to make that choice for themselves would be a different matter", said Streeting.

UK law currently prevents Church of England clergy from carrying out same-sex marriages. To change this, the Church would have to alter canon law, which prohibits same-sex marriage, and primary legislation would need to be amended.

The Church's General Synod, a devolved body of parliament which can bring forward legislation relating to the Church, will consider the bishops' proposals next month.

NSS: "It's high time the Church stopped having its cake and eating it."

National Secular Society head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "As the established religion, the Church of England has for too long enjoyed a cosy relationship with parliament, in which it benefits in terms of finance and power from its uniquely privileged position while being given free rein to teach homophobic beliefs and treat gay people as second-class citizens.

"It is therefore encouraging to see MPs pointing out the unfairness and unsustainability of this relationship. A Church which excludes LGBT people has no place in the heart of a state which believes in equality and inclusion.

"It's high time the Church stopped having its cake and eating it. Disestablishment would release parliament from this increasingly archaic, awkward and embarrassing institution, while freeing the Church from any attempts to control its doctrine."

The NSS is hosting a free online discussion on February 15th on the future of Church and state with Anglicans who support disestablishment. Find out more and book your place.

Read NSS chief executive Stephen Evans' recent commentary on the bishops' proposals.

Watch the debate:

Image by Julie Rose from Pixabay

The future of church and state: Perspectives on disestablishment

Free, online discussion | Wednesday 15 February 2023, 6-7pm

Tags: Disestablishment, LGBT